Tips for Grading Students’ Online Work

by Katie Upton

As school districts around the nation continue to utilize online learning, it is imperative that teachers develop a system for assigning and grading work online. At Marco Learning, we have reached out to teachers around the world to gather feedback about how this shift to online learning has changed education for both teachers and students. We know that some teachers have been overwhelmed by overestimating the amount of work that students will be able to complete while learning online. Another area of concern is determining which work should be graded as well as the best method for grading that work. Below are a few ideas to consider to help you address these issues.

  1. Establish the Purpose: When determining if an assignment should be graded or not, you must first establish the purpose of the assignment. Is the assignment meant to be a reading check? If so, a multiple-choice quiz is probably not the best method for assessing whether students have completed the reading. Instead, you could try requiring students to record themselves, briefly discussing the chapters they were required to read. Most students have cell phones. They can record and share their videos with you easily and with little data usage. On the other hand, we know students will encounter multiple-choice questions on the AP® Exams, so it is vital that students complete some practice. However, multiple-choice practice should be just that: practice. Why? Because there is a chance that students might be working together to complete these questions, regardless of the expectations that you have laid out. By removing the grade, students are less tempted to share answers and instead focus on the practice itself and improve their own thinking skills, which is really the purpose behind the assignment.
  1. Writing is Thinking: If you are looking to evaluate a student’s ability to develop a logical line of reasoning or to synthesize information, written format isn’t the only way to do this. Again, let students verbalize their responses. This method will cut down on your grading time, and will allow you to target student issues like whether or not the thinking is difficult for the students or if the writing is difficult. Flipgrid and Seesaw are both great online tools that allow you to create classes where students upload and share their own videos privately or publicly (with your approval). However, it is imperative that students continue to write in an online learning environment, and rubrics are more important than ever. They lay out clear expectations for the students and for the teacher. With these clear expectations, teachers can grade more efficiently while still providing effective feedback to students. Tools like Goobric , Google Classroom, or even old-school Rubistar make it easy to create digital rubrics to share out with your students.
  1. Less is More: Many of us completed an online course in college. Often these courses include one or two “live” sessions, a couple of student discussions, and a paper submission on a weekly basis. Chances are good that this online class was not difficult for you to keep up with while you were in college. Now, imagine having to do this as a teenager, and instead of having four classes (considered full-time at most colleges or universities), you have seven or eight. Would this schedule be easy for you? Probably not. The truth is that our students are struggling right now, and so are we. We need to be considerate of that. If you can assess student learning in three questions—do that. Don’t make a ten-question short answer assignment because you would have when your class was in-person. Likewise, if students in your class have always read The Great Gatsby, is it the end of the world if they watch the movie instead? You can still have a great student discussion that examines the same themes, characterization, and symbolism. So many movie streaming and audiobook services are providing free trials or subscriptions for students and teachers. Use those resources to do great things with your students. Just remember—let’s not do more for the sake of more.

As we continue down this path of uncertainty, teachers will become more and more comfortable with this new online format and so will their students. What seems impossible to complete online now might be exactly what we are doing in our “classes” a month from now. The only rule is a simple one: we must keep doing what is best for our students. As long as they remain in the forefront of our decisions—from a teacher to an administrative level—we will get through this.


Katie Upton has been teaching English courses for 15 years, helping students become college and career ready. She is an expert in AP® Language and Composition and a leader of the AP® Capstone program, and has led professional development as well, helping teachers blend 21st century learning with educational practices that have stood the test of time. A former basketball coach herself, Katie spends her free time cheering on her two boys in all that they do and supporting her husband, a head girls’ basketball coach.